Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson – When Good Books Go Bad

Some books are deplorable from the moment you pick them up until you finally make it to that last agonizing sentence (please refer to my 50 Shades trilogy reviews). While writing a terrible novel from start to finish is certainly a heinous crime, there is a far more grievous literary transgression demonstrated in S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep – Watson skillfully lulls readers into a false sense of security by creating a largely impressive and dark novel, only to abruptly conclude the novel with clichéd sunshine and rainbows.

Christine Lucas wakes up having no idea who or where she is. In her mind, she is a twenty-something just staring out in life, but she is shocked to discover that she is actually in her fifties and married to the man sleeping next to her. Each morning, her husband (Ben) calmly explains who and where she is, that an accident destroyed her short-term memory as well as her ability to create new long-term ones, and she can only retain new memories for roughly 24 hours (as soon as she enters a deep sleep those new memories are lost forever). While Ben is at work, Christine receives a phone call from a man claiming to be the doctor that she has been seeing for weeks in an attempt to improve her memory. Attempting to validate his identity, the man instructs her to go into her closet and locate a particular shoebox, where he tells her she will find a journal. Sure enough, the journal is there. Christine begins to read her entries, where she learns about her identity and her increasingly dire situation. As she has no memory of anything in the journal, we as readers get to experience her self-discovery just as she does – a nifty gimmick for which Watson deserves some kudos. We learn that Ben often relates conflicting accounts to Christine about her history – as he does not know about the journal, he has no idea that she can actually cross-check his stories. Christine starts to realize that things are not adding up, and the novel proceeds to go through various twists and turns all the way up to the conclusion.

Ahhh…the troublesome conclusion. Before I Go To Sleep sustains an intense pace with a compelling structure and plot all the way to the last twenty pages, where this novel that had such promise and potential simply crashes, burns, and then explodes a few times for good measure. Everyone is familiar with that movie or book in which the main characters are trying to hunt down the perpetrator of some warped crime. Then, the culprit ends up in a situation where he or she could easily kill the protagonist and escape completely unnoticed, but instead, the criminal decides to reveal the rationale for all criminal activity in a long and drawn-out narrative that would never take place were this an incident occurring in the real world. This is essentially what Watson does, and it is only so thoroughly disappointing to the overall strength of the rest of the novel.

Before I Go To Sleep is a well-written and fascinating novel with a decent twist. However, the ending is not fitting; for such a strong novel to conclude with both a copout and a cliché really makes me question the book as a whole – why would Watson just randomly throw it all away? Why wouldn’t an editor – or even a proofreading friend – venture to suggest a brief revision? Could no one step forward and say, “Look, SJ – this is great and all, but your ending is really offensive to my readerly sensibilities!” In the grand scheme of literary felonies, this type of book is far worse than 50 Shades of Grey because you are deceived into thinking that time has not been wasted and you have committed to something worthwhile – but no; readers are instead thrown into states of despair and anger. There is a special circle of Hell reserved for this type of writing, and Before I Go To Sleep has earned S.J. Watson a place there.

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